NHS contact-tracing app Ethics Board scrapped

The NHSX Ethics Board had previously provided advice to Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, on ethical and practical challenges surrounding the UK’s digital contact tracing plans. 

In May, Sir Jonathan, the chair, cautioned that an attempt to launch the app that failed to work properly could “undermine public confidence”.

Some board members had privately expressed concerns such as how the app would work for those digitally excluded, maintaining trust in the service, and whether it would work on older phones. 

During trials, the NHSX app was found to fail at logging many connections between iPhones, which stopped picking up Bluetooth signals when they were left idle.

On announcing the launch of the NHSX board in May, chief executive Matthew Gould said the development of the app was intended to be “totally open and transparent”.

However, there were repeated concerns raised over the app’s development. Mr Hancock at one stage promised the app would be launched in May, only for the deadline to be pushed back and ultimately scrapped.

There is still no timeline for the launch of the UK’s contact-tracing app, other than ministers suggesting it will arrive “before the winter”.

Jim Killock, a privacy campaigner at Open Rights Group, said: “Whatever form the App takes, the NHSX team should benefit from an ethics board. Removing accountability would be a disappointing step to take.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said the ethical and privacy framework of the coronavirus app was now part of its Test and Trace programme.

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